Department of Energy

Strengthening Community Resilience in New Orleans

November 16, 2017

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Electricity is vital in our modern-day lives. The energy infrastructure that supports its delivery, however, faces a number of hazards, including severe weather and the cyber threat. Through the Grid Modernization Initiative, the Department of Energy (DOE) is continuing to work with public and private partners to develop the concepts, tools, and technologies needed to make the grid more resilient and reliable. One such project is based in Louisiana.

Robert Jeffers, a Principal Systems Scientist at Sandia National Laboratory, leads a team of researchers from Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory working with the city of New Orleans to strengthen its resilience to natural disasters. Since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, resilience has been a renewed focus for the city.

Under the “Grid Analysis and Design for Energy and Infrastructure Resiliency for New Orleans” project, the team collaborated with a variety of partners based upon extensive consultation with a range of offices across the municipal government to develop what Jeffers calls “consequence-focused metrics.” Partners included multiple offices within the City of New Orleans, the Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans, the electric utility Entergy New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the 100 Resilient Cities Institute, which is part of the Rockefeller Institute and focuses on helping cities around the world become more resilient to extreme weather.

As part of the Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC), this project is expected to produce approaches and lessons learned that can be applied to other cities across the nation and around the world.  While New Orleans faces unique geographic challenges due to low sea levels, Jeffers and his team are looking to potentially work with other cities across the country focused on resiliency, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Norfolk, to analyze how they can modernize their own grid infrastructures to serve their citizens during power disruptions.

Jeffers points out that many current grid resilience investments target the fastest possible restoration of services to as many customers as possible. His team’s work, on the other hand, focuses on providing critical infrastructure services to as many people as possible, both during and after a storm. 

“If you are talking with an emergency planner, they’re focused on getting people what they need in the immediate aftermath,” Jeffers said. “We ultimately focused heavily on tracking the number of people without critical infrastructure services in different categories, like clean water and shelter.”

Map of inundation impacts in New Orleans
Investing in grid modernization to minimize consequences to communities involves understanding which lifeline services receive the greatest benefit from improved power resilience. 

Following the initial scoping phase of the project, the team developed a set of cost-effective options for enhancing resiliency. Their recommendations ultimately focused on advanced microgrids which are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience. Other options that the team also recommended for consideration included automated reclosers and automated fault location, isolation, system recovery (FLISR) software, and localized backup generation. 

Jeffers and his team identified clusters of high-impact infrastructure, like emergency medical services and fuel stations and fleets, assets could be best served by microgrids during a blackout or other disruption. By ensuring a reliable “Plan B” for such critical infrastructure, services could be returned to citizens much faster than if they are dependent on power being restored to the larger grid network. 

Partnerships have been critical to this work. Stewart Cedres, the Technical Manager for the project from DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) noted, “This project was a partnership effort that enabled us to take a systemic approach to electric grid resilience at the city level. We interwove analytics, modeling, and engineering to identify advanced technologies solutions in order to address major regional threats and adapted this approach to the electric power needs of the city and the local utility. But above all the technology, partnership was essential to this project.”

Learn more about Sandia’s work to strengthen the resiliency of cities, the Grid Modernization Lab Consortium, and the Grid Modernization Initiative online.

 

Stewart Cedres was the Principal Program Manager for the “Grid Analysis and Design for Energy and Infrastructure Resiliency for New Orleans” project funded under the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium. Based in Washington DC, Mr. Cedres is Senior Technical Lead and Strategist of Electric Grid Resilience Capabilities in DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Dr. Robert Jeffers was the Principal Investigator for the “Grid Analysis and Design for Energy and Infrastructure Resiliency for New Orleans” project. He is based at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM.